You can never give too many compliments

How often do you notice you’re thinking of a compliment but you don’t express it? These can be small, everyday things, such as ‘you look amazing in that dress’ or ‘ wow, you’re fast and helpful’. A sincere compliment given at the right moment can make the difference between giving up and pushing forward. Making a compliment may therefore be very important.

We should do that more often: giving each other compliments at work. We don’t lavishly scatter them around. You don’t want others to think you’re overdoing it. You don’t want them to think the compliment means more than you intended. You don’t want others who also did their best to feel left out. So we keep quiet. Or maybe we simply don’t see the compliment. Doing your best and achieving results is all in a day’s work, isn’t it? That’s too bad, because by giving a compliment you may achieve so much more.

Compliments for more commitment

You can never give too many compliments. There are various ways to do so. Dr Alex Klein conducted research and confirms that showing genuine personal appreciation of the achieved results has a strong positive effect on the level of commitment and motivation of employees. It will directly and indirectly improve the profitability of your organisation. The more appreciation is expressed, the higher the commitment of staff (+65%) and the higher the willingness to commit (+43%). And that’s not all:  the process execution within the organisation makes fewer errors when the management board expresses its appreciation more (-35%), customer satisfaction is higher (+44%) and profitability improves (+34%).

Compliments make you work harder

Arjan Non of Maastricht University conducted a research into a ‘pat on the back’ and reached a startling conclusion. Compliments don’t just make employees happy, they also make them work harder. If only the best of the department receives recognition, the work ethic rises and that increase is similar to the result of a heartfelt remark made to the entire department. But if you pat a few people on the back, something amazing happens. Especially the people who were left out, appear to step up their efforts. If you manage to motivate the persons with the lowest production this way, your entire production will increase. Because in many companies, the weakest link determines the pace. Arjan Non: ‘The explanation for this outcome is that people want to join the group, at the group’s level. If some people are complimented, we think “oh, so they want me to work a bit harder” and we’re speeding up.’

You can also organise giving compliments at work together. For instance starting a meeting with each participant giving a compliment, this sets a positive tone right away. After all, ‘You have done that well!’ is a pleasant introduction. You may use compliment cards co-workers can give to each other or leave behind on your desk. Or make a compliment wall on your own department where colleagues can post each other’s or clients’ compliments.

Giving a compliment

How do you give a good compliment? By alternating the way you give compliments: from directly (‘I know I can leave this up to you’) to indirectly (‘How do you manage to respond this quickly each time?’) or non-verbally with a ‘thumbs up’ and/or with a bunch of flowers.

A few more tips for giving compliments:

If you pay attention to something, it will grow
It really helps if you know what it is you want to enhance or increase. Therefore, take an appreciative look at the other person and see what is of value. It helps if you keep looking at ‘the glass’ as half-full, even if it is only filled for 10%. Looking at what does go well. It is most tempting to focus on the 90% that is not filled. Appreciate the little steps in the right direction: positive thinking, choice of words, behaviour or contribution to a project.

Define your compliment

The biggest mistake when expressing appreciation is that has not been specified enough. Go beyond compliments such as ‘well done!’ or ‘that’s clever!’ Of course those compliments are well-intended, but what exactly was done well or is clever? The receiver doesn’t learn much here. So be more specific: ‘It was brave of you to be so vulnerable in the group’.  And that’s the golden rule: ‘If you could also give the compliment to a dog, it’s not good enough!’

Make compliments on behaviour

Research by Carol Dweck, among others, has shown that it is much more effective to give process compliments than character compliments. So, say ‘You’re doing that in a smart way!’ rather than ‘You are so smart!’. Person-centred compliments are an appreciation of someone’s characteristics; that appreciation might ‘get stuck’ and hinder further development. Process compliments involve behaviour, commitment or effort. They highlight the learning process.

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